Believe it or not but experience shows that students are less likely to make contextual mistakes in their essays if they choose topics themselves. That is when you describe, or compare, or express your own opinion on an issue you personally are interested in, your writing has more chances to be accepted by a teacher and to get a decent grade.
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That’s a common practice within the frames of school and college programs. However, when it’s an admissions competition, an exam, or a language test, in most cases you are required to write an essay on a given topic.
Have you ever thought how this topic is determined? Well, I have, but I could never come up with an intelligible answer.
Anyway, in most cases a writing task of a test contains a so-called essay prompt. Yes, as you’ve already guessed, it’s aimed at prompting you what you should write about and even how to do it. Looks like a very noble gesture on the part of college admissions committee, doesn’t it? But the challenge is that usually such a prompt is not apparent.
I think there’s no need to mention negative consequences of misinterpreting the task. We are here today in order to make out how to look for the necessary hints in essay prompts and use them in your writing.
So, let’s crack the code!
Read the Prompt Before You Start Doing the Other Tasks
Usually essay writing is the last task of a test. Although sometimes you may not be allowed to look through all tasks in the very beginning of an exam or competition, still in most cases you have such opportunity. Why take it?
Firstly, a topic of the essay won’t be a surprise for you when you get to the writing task. Eliminate your stress as soon as you receive an exam paper, because you will certainly worry about the prompt.
Secondly, as you check the topic at once, you can’t but keep it in mind during the test, so your brain will activate its special mechanisms to generate some ideas for the essay. As a result, when you get to it, you’ll have at least something to start writing.
But what if an essay is the first task of exam? Then you can check the prompt at first as well, but don’t hurry to write anything. Make an outline, draft some ideas, and proceed with doing the rest of tasks. Complete them and come back to writing.
Reread the Prompt Carefully and Find the Key Terms
What does this abstract “carefully” really imply? No, it’s not the number of times you should read the task. Neither does it mean scanning the prompt slowly and thoughtfully.
You should pay attention to the most essential features of the task. I’ll list them below in order not to be too wordy:
- explanation or interpretation: you may be asked to comment on a given issue by explaining its origins, development, current state, or influence on something else;
- description: you may be required to describe a person, place, phenomenon, process, or even your personal feeling and impressions of something;
- comparison and contrast: you may be given two or three issues to analyze, compare and make conclusions concerning their similarities or differences;
- argumentation: the main trick of such task is that you’ll be offered to muse over a controversial issue but expected to discuss both sides of the argument, expressing your own opinion, of course.
Draft a Few Ideas That Come to Your Mind First
After you define the key points that will make the basis of your essay, a few ideas of what to write can instantly bombard your mind. Even if you think they aren’t very helpful, don’t hurry to forget about them. Write them down in a draft. These raw thoughts can help you come up with more serious arguments or solutions.
Remember About the Structure and Follow It
If you are asked to write 250 words, your answer can have at least two good paragraphs. If you are assigned to write 500 words and more, make sure you divide your essay into three-five logical parts. And keep in mind that you shouldn’t write more than a booklet allows.
Proofread (And Don’t Panic When You Find a Mistake)
Even if you firmly believe that three last minutes can’t change the situation (though they actually can!), still look through the essay once again. You might not have enough time to rewrite a somewhat clumsy statement, but you’ll be able to find at least a misspelling and correct it.
Stay optimistic! Good luck!
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